Irish society was completely warped by the Catholic Church, writes Donal O’Keeffe. It’s time for a-la-carte Catholics to think about what they condone.
The Catholic archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, last week called for the inquiry into mother-and-baby homes to be widened beyond “one particular religious congregation”.
Well. You know what that means. It means the Catholic Church – and its apologists – are saying you can’t pin the blame solely (or if they can help it, at all) on the Catholic Church.
RTÉ‘s Liveline was compulsive listening all week, the high point being Joe Duffy giving Tuam denier Fr Paul Churchill the frog-in-slowly-boiling-water treatment. Having conceded reluctantly that Catherine Corless is not actually the Devil, it was nearly a mercy to Fr Churchill when Catherine herself came on the air to put him out of his misery.
(Pro tip: if you’re ever on Liveline and Joe asks you to stay on the line, there’s a very good chance you’re already done.)
Arguably the most upsetting moment came on the same Liveline when Bridget, a former prisoner in Cork’s notorious Bessborough mother and baby home, rang in and – between sobs – told Joe about her son William.
I should note, Bridget contacted me in 2014 as the Tuam story broke and what she told me in a few short paragraphs moved me deeply.
“I had a beautiful baby boy, born in Bessborough in 1960 (who) died at six weeks, myself lucky to have survived with the same infection, was told a dirty needle. I hadn’t known where my son was buried until 15 years ago when I plucked up enough courage to confront the nuns at Bessborough.
“I now know that.
“Although I was a so called inmate in Bessborough at the time of his burial, I was not allowed to be at his burial. It breaks my heart not knowing if he was dressed in a gown or even if he was laid in a coffin.
“Having read these horror stories, nothing would surprise me. To this day, 54 years after, (I am) still trying to come to terms with the horror of it all.
“May God forgive them.”
The week ended with the Late Late Show audience uniting in an unprecedented and richly-deserved standing ovation for Catherine Corless.
Also featured was Peter Mulryan, who told of the parish priest showing up under the cover of darkness to lift his mother, then seven months pregnant with Peter, and bicycle her away on the crossbar of his bike, twenty miles o’er hill and dale.
That image speaks of a terrifying psychosis and it raises questions about Enda Kenny’s claim that “No nuns broke into our homes to kidnap our children”.
Archbishop Neary wasn’t the only one trying to shift the blame to Irish society last week. Let’s ignore the fact that the Catholic Church was the single greatest influencer and corruptor of Irish society and accept that Irish society – of course – deserves a share of the blame.
Let’s say we accept that the responsibility was split evenly between the Catholic Church and Irish society. Let’s say 50/50. Of course, we already did that in Michael Woods’ sweetheart deal and the religious orders so far owe us €266,000,000 and show no sign of coughing up.
Think of all the scoliosis operations that money might buy.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has been – falsely – reported as near to death many times. Every time it has, from Fr Brendan Smyth, to Fr Sean Fortune, to Fr Ivan Payne, to all the others, from Dublin to Cloyne, every time, I’ve said to myself, well, there won’t be anyone at Mass next Sunday. There’s no way anyone could put money on the plate after this. There’s no way anyone can condone this.
Every time I’ve been wrong.
Surely, this time would be different.
If the Catholic Church in Ireland facilitating and covering up the sexual abuse of children on an industrial scale didn’t finish the Church, then surely 796 dead babies left in a disused sewage treatment system would do it. Surely there’s no way anyone could support the Catholic Church after that.
Well, I drove through Fermoy on Sunday and cars were double-parked on Emmet Street for half-twelve Mass. I thought of Trump marvelling that he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue and still not lose support.
Some people will never give up the faith.
And that’s between them and their God.
There are – of course – many people of faith who are a force for good. Of course there are. Any list of the genuinely great and the genuinely good in Ireland today would have to include the likes of Sister Stan, Brother Kevin and Father Peter.
But perhaps we shouldn’t live in a world where we even need to acknowledge that some people in the morality business actually are moral.
If you can think about the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam getting the equivalent of €110 a week per baby and still somehow presiding over an infant mortality rate five times that of the rest of the population; if you can think about all of the women enslaved and abused for the crime of being pregnant; if you can think about all of the babies who died and all of the babies who were sold; if you can think about all of the little bodies left in a disused septic tank; if you can think about all of this and still go to Mass, then that’s between you and your God.
For the rest of us, the a la carte, Bouncy Castle Catholics, we need to think about what sort of a country we have and what sort of a country we want.
We look back aghast at an Ireland which enslaved Irish women for having unwanted pregnancies but we live in an Ireland which exiles twelve Irish women a day for exactly the same crime.
Why do we baptise our kids if we never go to Mass? If it’s so they’ll get into a school, we need to think that one through.
In the 2011 Census, 84.2% of us replied that our religion is Catholic (the 2016 results aren’t out till October). Mass attendance would suggest that barely 25% of us are dictionary definition Catholics, but the Church can use that 84.2% as a justification for its control of 90% of our schools. Your child’s baptism, or Communion, or your church wedding or funeral – like it or not – gives support to the Catholic Church.
If the Catholic Church does not speak for you, then stop letting them profit from your tacit support. Your horror at Tuam, and all the Church’s other abominations, must be reflected in action. Otherwise maybe your horror really is just – to use the phrase favoured by the Irish Times‘ right wing columnists – virtue signalling.
Of course Irish society had and has questions to answer. The largest is why we have not yet cast out the serpent coiled around our State.
As we go to press, news breaks of the death of former Bishop Eamon Casey. In retrospect, Casey’s fathering a child was the first pebble in what became an avalanche of Church scandals.
It seems now a very quaint thing that Ireland was horrified that Casey had sex with a consenting adult.
Had all of those paedophile priests stolen diocesan funds, perhaps the Catholic Church might have come down as hard on them as it did on Casey.